EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, while under my name, is not actually my work. This is from John A. Babiak, who is (was?) our new hire to come onto MHH right as the news of Vox Media moving away from hockey coverage was released. John may still be coming on depending on the status of those above me and if they can get any paperwork done. John not only is a writer but a photographer gathering exclusive photos at Avalanche games. MHH will be utilizing his pictures when we can! Nonetheless, this is (un)officially John’s first piece for Mile High Hockey. Welcome him aboard and throw him a follow on Twitter too!
When it comes to this often painful season for the reigning World Champion Colorado Avalanche - timing, both good and bad, is everything. And the timing of the arrival of the four-day NHL All-Star Break is second to none.
The Avs haven’t exactly picked up where they left off on that infamous June 26, 2022 summer day, when their man upstairs, Altitude Sports Radio play-by-play Conor McGahey declared that team from 5,280 feet had just won-it-all.
Despite their precarious play during the first half of this season, not a single person with the rank and file of the Avs organization has given up on the possibility of repeating. More so, the team hasn’t folded, despite all the pressure on its broad shoulders.
In early December, they experienced a mix of forces of nature from run-of-the-mill fatigue, to costly injuries, to experiencing chemistry issues during play. Then, out of the blue, they went on an unexpected 7-3-0 rumble, and today are poised to go after a successive playoff berth.
On paper, the Colorado Avalanche appear to be ready to bust out of their respective locker room beneath Ball Arena’s section 102, skate like bats out of purgatory, and regain their world-class mojo. They are not so distant from the masterful wizardry and play that peaked at the height of last season’s playoffs.
With Cale Makar back and looking as handsome as ever on the ice, and the good timing of contributors Valeri Nichushkin, Josh Manson, and Bowen Byram eager to return to play, the outlook of the second half of the season is only looking up.
Plus the team’s rehabbing scoring machine - Gabriel Landeskog, is rounding third and almost ready to jump on the ice after the break aiming to return on March 15. How fortuitous all this progress is for the Avs international fandom.
The team’s restart is scheduled for February 7 when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Avs. In addition to the return of sidelined players, one wild card is what the Avalanche front office staff is scheming up in the form of possible trades before the looming March 3 deadline.
The first step in that direction occurred last month when the club announced that they made a low-profile transaction when the team acquired forward Matt Nieto and defenseman Ryan Merkley from the San Jose Sharks. Yet, there is a bigger-picture question - does Jared Bednar’s bench need a blockbuster addition? Or do the Avs just need to augment the soon-to-be healthy roster with a couple of modest adds that could roll up to something fateful? Or is it a combination of both?
By the way - your input is certainly welcomed. Play GM, and chip in the comments below.
Let it be said that the next nine weeks will climax with the start of the playoffs. Making the mid-April shootout will be far from easy for Colorado. Their remaining schedule is challenging, and they're just as eager to succeed divisional rivals who have very similar intentions - make the gosh darn playoffs.
Last season, the Avs entered the All-Star break period with an impressive 32-8-4 record. They boasted a 54-plus goal differential and had just achieved a record-breaking 18-home game winning streak. For that matter, Colorado was practically invincible.
Today, they sit in fourth place in the Central Division with a 27-18-3 record. They are nipping at the heels of the Minnesota Wild while trying to shoo off the hard-charging Nashville Predators. That said, the Avs cannot let off of the pedal until they outright win a playoff invitation.
At the start of this season, odds-makers favored Colorado to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, and so, gloves down. Perhaps their recent play and the pending return of a number of high-potential contributors is a message from God that they are capable of repeating.
Calgary’s head coach Darryl Sutter thinks a lot of the Avs. On January 17, the wise skipper spoke to the media and predicted that Colorado will finish high in the standings:
With Calgary set to face Colorado Wednesday night, Flames head coach Darryl Sutter believes the defending champs will go far in the playoffs. pic.twitter.com/0pfuPxSFjg— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 17, 2023
The NHL veteran also commended the Avs's dynamic duo of goaltenders - Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz. “They’ve probably got the best one-two punch in goal for the whole year,” Sutter said.
So hold onto your helmets, cross your fingers and toes, and get ready for an exciting race to the finish line. At a minimum, it should be filled with rambunctious fun - especially in Ball Arena at a mile high.
This nearly written-off team is coiled up and ready to strike like a provoked prairie rattlesnake once the second half of the season commences. Until the Avs regroup and take the ice in the Steel City, enjoy the play of Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen during this weekend’s upbeat All-Star celebration in Sunrise, Florida. Feel proud of your guys, too.